Supplementing the rigorous academic lessons Joel Clinger is taking away from his time at the University of New Mexico is the personal growth he’s experienced throughout the past four years.

Clinger is no stranger to arduous work. During his time at UNM, he worked toward a Bachelor of Science in biology and a minor in military studies while carving out time to devote to his student-run extracurriculars, community work and his own faith journey.

“There was plenty of community outreach, such as working at the Ronald McDonald House as a guest chef as well as volunteering to help move students in and out of dorms on the Lobo Move-In days,” Clinger said.

Clinger said his favorite activity was his involvement with the Baptist Student Union (BSU) Christian Challenge.

“A group of BSU students would go out on campus with a table of free snacks and drinks and just give them out to students and people passing by,” Clinger said.

Clinger’s multifaceted successes are rooted in years of working toward his academic and professional interests. He described a childhood love for biology and an early interest in the military, which led him to join the Air Force Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (AFROTC) during his freshman year.

“Studying plants and animals was kind of a childhood fantasy, though most of biology in college is microbiology,” Clinger said. “But throughout my college career, just learning about the scope of biology, from cells to the biosphere, grew my awe and fascination with nature.”

Clinger also detailed his experience within AFROTC, weighing the triumphs versus the few lows. He said he decided that the leadership and survival skills he gained from the program far outmatched his initial nervousness at becoming involved.

“Starting out as a freshman was especially intimidating, but that’s because you’re going through military training ... It was definitely hard at first, but it’s a program that pushes you and cultivates hard work,” Clinger said. “Once you hit your junior year, you start teaching the freshmen and sophomores the leadership lessons you’ve learned, so it really rounds you out as an individual.”

Clinger noted that the inevitable community that AFROTC fosters both motivated him to excel and taught him how to lead as well as learn from the people around him.

“And this is all while you’re being a regular student and taking degree classes,” he added. “It really is like a part-time job.”

Ultimately, Clinger said he recommends AFROTC to any student seeking growth and productive challenges.

AFROTC directly shaped Clinger’s career path, as he plans to go into the Air Force as a pilot.

“I plan to have a career in the Air Force as a rescue pilot, and once I am out of the military, hopefully that translates to a job in the civilian rescue world as well,” he said.

Clinger said he hopes to also obtain a master’s degree eventually, though he isn’t sure yet what field the degree will focus on.

Among his more memorable courses at UNM, Clinger said Professor Michael Rocca’s political science 200 class had a positive impact on his learning experience.

“The class itself was enjoyable, but the added benefit was because of Professor Rocca. He is an extremely passionate teacher and is skilled in inviting students into the subject and helping them want to learn about it,” Clinger said.

From a more general college experience perspective, Clinger said watching the gradual effects of changing seasons on UNM’s unique foliage remains one of his most treasured memories.

“I have particularly enjoyed walking around campus in the fall and spring when leaves and plants are changing,” he said. “Weirdly enough, UNM has a beautiful campus. I’m particularly fond of being able to appreciate that beauty in the seasons!”

Jesse Pettinger, a senior majoring in history, said he met Clinger through the BSU Christian Challenge and connected with him through meals, banter and ping pong matches.

“Joel is extremely kind. That is a word that is not used often in our society, and he is one of the few people I know that truly deserves it,” Pettinger said. “He is extremely loving and cares about others more than he cares about himself.”

Pettinger added that he would miss the profound discourse he and Clinger frequently enjoyed.

“It’s not often you find a friend who you can sit with for hours and not grow tired of,” Pettinger said. “I will miss his genuine grace and fun spirit.”

Clinger expressed gratitude toward the smooth nature of his academic obligations and AFROTC experience while emphasizing the personal growth that accompanied these milestones. His conception of growth was especially pronounced when he discussed the elements that allowed him success during his undergraduate years.

Indeed, Clinger said he advocates for seeking growth in communal situations in addition to purely school-focused environments.

“College is a big time of growth, so go seek a mentor that will help you develop yourself,” Clinger said. “I did well in my classes, but I didn’t kill myself in them because my focus was on my friendships and relationships. So, figure out what you're passionate about, school-related or not, and give time to that. It’ll only make the experience sweeter.”

Beatrice Nisoli is a beat reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at or on Twitter @BeatriceNisoli